Book Review: Horseman, Pass By by Larry McMurtry

by Srivalli Rekha

4 Stars

Trigger Warning: rape, animal killing


I’m going to start by saying that I wouldn’t have picked up the book if not for the WW’s monthly theme. This month we are doing ‘outlaw’, and that made me want to try a book with such a character.


Google gave a lot of titles, and this was my first pick. There was something about the title. Later I found that it was taken from a poem by WB Yeats. Fitting.


The Western short novel is narrated by Lonnie, a seventeen-year-old lad from a ranch in Texas. He lives with his granddad, Homer, step-granny, Jewel, her son, Hud, their housekeeper, Halmea (a Black woman), and two workers/helpers- Lonzo and Jesse.


Many other characters walk in and out of the story, doing their bit to take the story forward. The setting is the 1950s, where people are working hard to make a living. They party too, which our young narrator tends to miss when he is at the ranch.


Lonnie is poetic, confused, distressed, and restless. He wants to have fun with friends. But he also wants to do something for his granddad. And he also wants to go away and explore and try something new.

A lot of things that happen at the ranch are beyond his control- be it the disease that infects their cattle or Hud’s volatile temperament or Jesse’s pessimism. Lonnie is unsure of his life and of things around him but does his share of work at the ranch when he is expected to step in and deliver.


The narration alters between poetic prose and graphic description. It is an odd combination, one that makes the reader visualize the story a bit too clearly. While the setting, the sunrises and sunsets, the difficulty of work, and the food (oh, there’s quite a lot of it) are appealing, the other stuff (read violence) gets a little uncomfortable.


But the scenes are impactful and show exactly how Lonnie feels. The shift in him towards the end of the book is powerful and sad. The book has no definite ending. It just seems like a part of Lonnie’s life is over, and the next chapter will depend on what he decides. I was a little disappointed to not know what would happen next. Will Lonnie grow up to be a better man? Will he turn into someone like Hud? Will he end up like Jesse? It’s for us to decide.


Characters- Typical yet Real

The characters are almost stereotyped. But it’s amazing how they still seem real. Hud’s cruelty is clear, though we do not why. The reason is revealed (to an extent) in the second half of the story. But it still makes us wonder if that’s the only reason or if there is more.


Homer, the granddad, is a typical old rancher, loved by a few people, respected and feared (and hated) by many. For me, he was one of the best characters in the book. Next comes Halmea. She’s such a delight to read with quirks, a bit of silliness, compassion, understanding, and strength. She’s a realist. She knows Lonnie’s got a crush on her, but the way she steers it to friendship and good companionship shows her understanding of him. She’s probably the only person who understands Lonnie and his restlessness.


Hud is complex, mercurial, crooked, and a villain. He believes in taking what he wants- things or people. It wasn’t until I started researching for the review that I came to know about the movie Hud (1963), which was based on the book.


The movie apparently showed him as a ‘charming scoundrel’ (taken from a reviewer’s comment on Goodreads). The plot was changed to suit it. However, he isn’t the anti-hero in the book. He is the antagonist, and we don’t know if he is a cold-blooded murderer or not. We can only guess, as Lonnie does.


Themes

Ranch life, disappointments, grudges, love, hatred, fear, loss, despair, acceptance, death, and philosophy are some strong themes in the book.


One by one, people begin to leave, and Lonnie finds himself alone. He wants things to be back the way they were even though he knows it’s not possible. The narration takes a philosophical turn, followed by a cynical reflection of people and society.


Outlaw was supposed to be my main theme, but I realized there isn’t much about outlaws in the book. Jesse is an outlaw, though it doesn’t make any difference to the story. Hud would be one if his crimes were ever proved. He’s too smart, and Lonnie doesn’t think Hud would ever be convicted. That doesn’t leave us with enough details to discuss. But it still shows how the laws were either taken too lightly or a little too seriously, depending on who the criminal was.


Conclusion

Overall, reading this book was a different experience. It was fun at some places, sad at some, and hopeful towards the end. I’m glad to have picked this one.

About the Author: Srivalli Rekha is a blogger, writer, and amateur photographer. She got a degree in MBA and MA English Literature and chose to become a writer and a poet instead of a corporate professional.

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